Dutch choreographer David Zambrano talks about what dance and his travels have taught him

Contemporary Dance choreographer David Zambrano was in the Capital for workshops and performances in association with Gati Dance Forum and Max Mueller Bhavan recently. Ask him if it was his first time in India, and he succinctly describes it, “Yes, but in my dream, not!”

Zambrano's list of things that attract him to the country bubbles over — “I always liked the Indian music, and their clothes, and their fabrics, and their food, and their crafts….”

His early introduction to India and Indians came through his friend the late Ranjabati Sircar, the well known Contemporary Dancer. “I also saw Astad Deboo in a dance festival in the '80s,” he recalls. “And then in 2000 I saw Akram Khan.”

Zambrano's pithy descriptions sweep one along in a cheerful whirl. He was a judge at a scholarship audition, where Kathak and Contemporary Dancer Akram, now a star and celebrated for his virtuoso technique, impressed him immensely. “Sometimes I don't get hot when I see Contemporary Dance,” he notes frankly, adding an impressive male dancer is even harder to find. “He was very astonishing,” says Zambrano of Akram. “I like him very much.”

Zambrano, Venezuelan by birth, left his country of origin when he was 21. “Now I'm 50, so I've lived half my life outside,” he remarks. Based in Amsterdam, he receives support from the Government of the Netherlands and calls himself “very much a Dutch artiste”.

Body knowledge

Having also lived in the U.S., he enjoys working with artistes from different backgrounds. “I always like dancers that represent different cultures inside the room, like a little United Nations.” This “UN of bodies” is a means “to exchange body knowledge that reflects the cultures of different regions.”

Like crepes, says Zambrano, adding colours and textures to his description: They are called by different names in different countries, they have different ingredients and taste different, but they are all crepes (pancakes)! Speaking in dance terms, he asks, why, for example, in one country do they move the pelvis a lot and in another they don't?

Dance movements are rooted in cultures and these roots can be fiercely sensitive. Do confrontations ever come up? “Oh yes, almost all the time,” he agrees, pointing out the “border between therapy and artistic personal development” is a porous one. Confrontation occurs “especially when you think ‘this is the way'.”

Trained in Ballet

Zambrano began his choreographic experiments with non-professional dancers. “When I started I never studied a specific technique for dancing,” he states, though he has trained in Ballet briefly. “When I arrived in the U.S., I learnt a lot from watching.” In getting a group together, “the joy of movement — that was basic,” he explains. “I selected dancers I met in parties. They were ‘non dancers', but they liked to move. I started exploring possibilities.”

After a while he realised how much he loved to perform and “frame situations”. In his words, he “got contagious” and decided he wanted “to go all the way to the stage”. So Zambrano eventually got to working with trained professionals, though that brought certain problems since some were more rigid in their approach.

Creating work and conducting workshops around the world, Zambrano, who loves “the energy that transforms you on stage,” has come to realise that differences can be dissolved and resurrected as tools. Even the distinction between movement as dance and movement as work. Take balance, a concept dancers toil and meditate over. “They do the same thing in Africa, when they carry the basket on their head and a baby at the back — and they don't study,” he says.

When he talks of observing newborn kittens, how their movements transform from chaotic to simple as they grow older, yet the ability to move energetically as of old comes back as soon as they see a mouse — “It's great to have that memory in there” — you realise for Zambrano, all the world is literally a choreographic project.

As for cultural differences, he has learnt that travelling gifts one a vision with which to see afresh what one was born to. “There are many things you think you don't have in your culture, but when you go around the world, you realise you had it.”